The History of Electronic Cigarettes
Inasmuch as electronic cigarettes are fairly recent inventions, the industry has enjoyed an explosive and truly exhilarating journey over its short few years. The world has had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand the tremendous power that can be unleashed when innovation, freedom, and determination collectively join forces. However, one of the characteristics of the vaping revolution that gives it a unique sense of charm, and a distinctive drift of magic is that electronic cigarettes are products that genuinely help individuals as much as they bring them joy.
In the Beginning:
Although the popularization of electronic cigarettes is relatively new, the basic technology has been around for a surprisingly long period of time. On May 3, 1927, an inventor named Joseph Robinson filed for the patent of the world’s first electric vaporizer (Publication Number: US1775947 A). The patent was ultimately granted to him on September 16, 1930, which represents the very first known conception of an electronic cigarette in history. An excerpt from the abstract of his filing reads: “My invention relates to vaporizing devices for holding medicinal compounds which are electrically or otherwise heated to produce vapors for inhalation, and the general object is to provide a device of this character for individual use which may be freely handled without any possibility of being burned, and which is sanitary and very effective and so simple that anyone can use it.” Robinson’s electric vaporizer never gained any commercial popularization, and there is little information as to whether or not any prototypes were ever created and tested.
Following Robinson’s original concept, the notion of electronic vaporizers laid dormant for over 36 years until another inventor and business major named Herbert A. Gilbert introduced the world’s first “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” to the world. Filed on April 17, 1963, the patent (publication number: US3200819 A) was finally granted on August 17, 1965. As a two-pack-per-day smoker, Gilbert used his proficient logic and reasoning skills to invent a device that delivered nicotine in the form of water vapor. A passage from Gilbert’s patent abstract states:
The present invention relates to a smokeless nontobacco cigarette and has for an object to provide a safe and harmless means for and method of smoking by replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air; or by inhaling warm medication into the lungs in case of a respiratory ailment under direction of a physician. Another object of the invention is to provide an article of manufacture resembling a cigarette by which air may be drawn through a porous substance of a cartridge which has been moistened with a chemically harmless flavoring preparation, combining moisture and taste following which the moist and flavored air passes through a section of the device heated by a suitable heating element so that warm, moist and flavored air is drawn into the mouth and if desired into the lungs of the user.
Although Gilbert’s groundbreaking invention never reached any notable level of commercialization, he did manage to develop several prototypes in his father’s scrap yard in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, due to a fire, none of the inventor’s prototypes survived, although his brilliant concept certainly thrives to this day. Gilbert pitched his electronic cigarette product to several companies, including large tobacco and pharmaceutical corporations, but his fruitless efforts never materialized. He believes that this was due to their interest in self-preservation, as well as their keenness to wait until Gilbert’s patent expired, thereby permitting them to effectively steal his ideas and develop similar products of their own—a belief that ultimately proved true.
Through the 1990s and early 2000s, several patents were filed and granted for smokeless nicotine delivery devices, such as the Nicoderm Inhaler, Nicorette Inhaler, and the Nicotrol Inhaler. These predominantly pharmaceutical products essentially deliver controlled amounts of nicotine when drawn upon using propulsion. Although these devices do deliver nicotine to the user in a vaporized form, they never received a fraction of the popularity electronic cigarettes have, as they are simply ineffective in comparison. Several other nicotine delivery devices were also submitted for approval to the FDA throughout the late 1990s, but were rejected at the time. Their denied status essentially halted the development and progress of that particular model as a whole.
Birth of the Modern Electronic Cigarette:
The modern electronic cigarette, and the vaping revolution that ensued, did not commence until 2003 when the very first commercially successful device was introduced by a 52-year-old Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik. A graduate of Liaoning College, Lik struggled with kicking his personal heavy smoking habit while simultaneously witnessing the death of his father due to smoking-induced lung cancer. These experiences motivated Lik to envision and ultimately develop a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes, in an effort to help those who struggle with quitting the terrible addiction.
Hon Lik’s initial patent filing was submitted on April 14, 2004 (Publication Number: US8393331 B2). The “non-smokable electronic aerosol cigarette” vaporized a propylene glycol nicotine solution using a piezoelectric ultrasound-emitting element. In partnership with Golden Dragon Holdings, this preliminary ultrasound design was never released to the public, as it was rapidly replaced by a system that incorporated a heating element that was powered by a battery to vaporize the liquid solution instead. The liquid was contained within unit’s mouthpiece, and made direct contact with the separate heating element, known as an “atomizer.”
Although the design did function, it was flawed in that it produced little vapor, and allowed for liquid to spit into the mouth of the user. Joyetech, which is now a premium brand name, was the first to popularize this preliminary design with the introduction of their renowned eGo-T electronic cigarette kit. Irrespective of its relatively poor functionality, at the time it managed to gain tremendous momentum and popularity among smokers seeking a viable alternative to combustible cigarettes.
The Rise of Electronic Cigarette Innovation:
The preliminary eGo-T model was soon replaced and immensely improved upon in 2007 by two brothers from Woking, Surrey, named Umer and Tariq Sheikh, who invented the world’s first “cartomizer.” This brilliant contraption integrated the heating element (coil) and liquid chamber into one cohesive unit. The cartomizer also contained a wicking filament, which absorbed the liquid and fed it to the coil in order to be ultimately vaporized. The result was substantially larger vapor production, better flavor, and a more satisfying throat-hit. The cartomizer also resolved the dreaded problem of spit-back experienced with the eGo-T system.
Cartomizer technology was used in several electronic cigarette kits, including the Joyetech 510 and the Kanger 808-D kits. Designed to closely resemble the size, shape, and sensation of smoking analog cigarettes, these “cig-a-likes” were rechargeable and reusable devices that enjoyed immense popularity among early vapers across the globe. Although currently viewed as rudimentary and prehistoric technology, these products represented the very best within the industry at the time. They are also considered to have largely attributed to helping propel the explosive electronic cigarette revolution that relentlessly grows to this day.
As well-performing and effective as these early devices were, they posed two important problems: the batteries did not last for more than a couple of hours, and the solid cartomizers did not allow the user to monitor the remaining amount of e-liquid left within it. The former problem was easily resolved by producing larger capacity batteries to operate with the cartomizer. However, the latter visibility conundrum took greater ingenuity and resourcefulness to overcome. The solution was ultimately conceived by who is now considered one of the foremost leaders within in the vaping industry—Kangertech. Through the creation of the “clearomizer,” Kanger was able to maintain the benefits of cartomizers, but within transparent bodies that allowed for the user to see the amount of e-juice remaining in the tank.
The Introduction of Clearomizers:
Kangertech’s launch of the CE4 Clearomizer denoted another crucial leap forward in vaping technology, and shaped the future of the trade in many fashions. This vitally progressive innovation rapidly gave birth to an incredible span of other clearomizers, each inching towards a better and more pleasant vaping experience. Although refillable, the original Kanger clearomizers were furnished with fixed atomizer coils, thereby requiring the tank to be disposed of entirely once the coil burnt out. However, shortly after the CE4 hit the shelves, clearomizers with replaceable atomizer coils were promptly introduced. The ability to replenish the head was very well-received by vapers, as replacing a coil is considerably less expensive than being forced to purchase an entirely new tank.
Steadfastly dedicated to research and development, a few short months after Kangertech first released the CE4, they shocked the industry with yet another origination that further improved the quality of the produced vapor delivered by clearomizers. In the summer of 2013, Kanger released the world’s very first Glassomizer—the legendary Kangertech Protank. Although seemingly a very minor detail, at the time this was an absolutely groundbreaking modernization. Due to the acidity contained within e-juices, over time the plastic used to make clearomizers would erode into the liquid, thereby altering the taste and tarnishing the look of the tank. However, glass is entirely impervious to this acidic environment, and therefore delivers a markedly cleaner, purer, and truer flavor, while remaining wholly aesthetically untarnished.
The Kanger Protank rapidly proved enormously popular from the day of its launch. Building upon this astonishing momentum, Kangertech swiftly followed through with the Mini Protank, which was a smaller version of the device designed to fit seamlessly with the diameter of a standard eGo battery. Soon after, the vaping community was yet again pleasantly surprised with news that Kanger had unveiled the second adaptation of the Protank—the Protank 2. The Mini Protank 2 soon followed, as did a fantastic selection of other Protank models thereafter. Other manufacturers began following suit, releasing clearomizers, glassomizers, and tanks of their own, thereby helping to fuel the truly unprecedented advancement in vaping technology that is still relished today.
Advancements in Atomizer Coil Technology:
On the heels of developments made with respect to tank bodies and frames, emphasis was then placed on the heating elements used within them—the atomizer coils. Initially, atomizer coils were generally set to standard resistances between 1.8 ohms – 2.5 ohms, contained single coils, and were furnished with silca wicks to feed e-juice to the coil. However, as time progressed, leading manufacturers found that adding second coils produced double the amount of vapor while drastically amplifying flavor intensity as well. As such, many of the second-generation clearomizers and glassomizers were equipped with bottom-dual-coil atomizer heads. Moreover, available atomizer coil resistance also began expanding immensely with the advent of sub-ohm heads. Set to a resistance below 1.0 ohms, these units are designed to accept substantially higher amounts of power. Atomizer coil resistances today have reached unimaginably low levels down to .015 ohms, which is built to withstand wattage as high as 225W.
In an unremitting effort to excel in all forms and fashions, new research led the hardware manufacturers to modify atomizer coil resistances relative to the power output based on Ohms Law. This helped foster atomizers that produced appreciably more satisfying vapor production, which was very desperately sought by vapers at the time. Concurrently, silca wicks slowly gave way to cotton wicks, as silca contained impurities that were determined to be harmful when inhaled. In time, manufacturers began utilizing organic cotton, as it is entirely void of bleach, colorants, and pesticides that can be found in standard cotton—a practice that has become all but commonplace today.
Progressive Battery Innovations:
During this amelioration in tank and coil technology, much less prominence was placed on the battery portion of the electronic cigarette setup. The vast majority of tanks were designed to operate with what generally remained the industry paradigm at the time—the eGo stick battery. Many tanks were designed to match the diameter of these batteries, while others maintained a larger form factor, which made the setup top-heavy, awkward, and aesthetically unsightly. Small components were made available, such as beauty rings, to compensate for the transition in size from battery to tank; however, it nevertheless remained far short of an ideal configuration. Notwithstanding this drawback, many vapers preferred the larger tanks, as they allowed for substantially longer periods of use between refills.
The first notable efforts in battery technology improvement came in the way of variable voltage eGo batteries. These now rudimentary devices were massively embraced and welcomed at the time, as they carried the same size, shape, and functionality of conventional eGo batteries, but were also equipped with knobs at the base that allows the user to adjust the output voltage. This provided for wonderful customization while simultaneously adding greater versatility, as the same battery could, for the first time, be used to power various resistance atomizer coils.
In brief time, however, many new players entered the scene, carrying with them a fury of competitive advancements that propelled battery technology to utterly unforeseen heights. One such manufacturer, Innokin, introduced an edgy, stick-sized battery called the iTaste VV, which was equipped with small OLED screen that allows for digital wattage and voltage adjustment. The introduction of variable wattage capability along with the embedded screen yet again boosted the industry and helped pave the way for the next wave of vaping technology—Advanced Personal Vaporizers (APVs).
The Dawn of Advanced Personal Vaporizers:
Spearheaded by companies such as Joyetech with their celebrated eVic device, advanced personal vaporizers represent the first principal thrust in the way of incorporating cutting-edge microchips within an electronic cigarette system. The initial devices were generally rather large, bulky, and cylindrical in shape. However, despite the sizeable stature, they proved tremendously popular and desired by the vaping community. This is due to the fact that these new progressive systems afforded multiple new options never before witnessed in the past.
Equipped with large, clear, and vivid OLED screens, the chipsets of these new APVs brought an array of data digitally to the fingertips of the user. You could monitor the remaining battery life, the resistance of the atomizer coil, the wattage setting, the voltage setting, and the duration of the puff. This provided for an unprecedented degree of freedom to fine-tune and customize the user’s vaping experience, while simultaneously adding an unsurpassed level of adaptability.
In step with the APV revolution, designers began releasing similar devices, but configured in a square-shaped formation. Due to its profile, these products came to be knows as Box MODs. Initially, many greeted the square contour with some resistance, as they were accustomed to using electronic cigarettes that were cylindrically shaped. However, within a brief period of time, this sentiment reversed and paved the way for future generations of box MODs, which are alive and rapidly flourishing to this day.
As is the case with virtually all technologies, irrespective of the specific category, once introduced, the resulting natural course of events that follows amounts to rapid releases of new versions that are smaller, faster, more powerful, and more feature-rich. This has certainly been the case with respect to box MODs. One of the primary devices that helped greatly propel the box MOD insurgency forward was the Eleaf iStick, which is now a legendary collection with over a dozen variations within it thus far.
Modern box MODs are equipped with ultra-advanced microchips capable of a plethora of abilities that was unthinkable just a few short years ago. Some of the devices in circulation today are capable of producing over 200W of power, can link to computers and smartphones, have Bluetooth connectivity, are furnished with multiple memory settings, and can operate with virtually any tank or atomizer coil type in existence. With the rapid rise in the progression of the advanced personal vaporizers, the industry’s focus was then again re-directed back towards tanks and atomizer coils.
Temperature Control is Discovered:
In lock-and-step with the evolution of advanced box MODs, research teams across a host of manufacturers worked diligently to develop atomizer coils and tanks capable of delivering ever-increasing vapor volume along with the most robust flavor intensity possible. One of the key occurrences that helped achieve this goal was the discovery of the temperature control atomizer coil. Engineers discovered that using nickel (Ni-200) wire rather than Kanthal for the atomizer coils would allow for the MOD’s chip to regulate the temperature of the heating element itself. This was a trailblazing finding, as it not only substantially heightened the flavor concentration of the e-juice, but also helped eliminate the possibility of dry and burnt hits that many experience with common Kanthal coils.
Very soon thereafter, new atomizers arose that were made with other materials, such as titanium and stainless steel. In order for these new atomizers to be utilized, the advanced new box MODs were programmed with modes that are capable of accommodating each coil variety, thereby making the devices as a whole unequivocally versatile. They are encoded with settings suitable for stainless steel, nickel, titanium, NiChrome, and Kanthal atomizer coils. This allows a single box MOD to accommodate virtually any vaping style, skill level, and preference requirement.
Cloud production also came back to the spotlight, inspiring manufacturers to design massive atomizer coils that are furnished with four, six, and even eight atomizer coils within one tank body. The most popular of such is unquestionably the SMOKtech TFV8, which is an absolutely colossal tank that can be fitted with an astonishing octuple-coil configuration. These eight separate atomizer coils work in unison to manufacture a mind-blowing volume of vapor that was previously inconceivable. As has been the case throughout this fantastically exciting journey, other manufacturers soon followed suit, fetching several competition-level performance tanks that are enjoyed by advanced vapers across the globe.
Where We Are Today:
What began as a humble idea aimed at providing for a viable alternative to traditional analog cigarettes has very rapidly progressed into a cutting-edge, multi-billion-dollar industry with no end is sight. The one and only factor that could potentially put the breaks on this flourishing, brilliant, and beneficial industry is the burdensome FDA regulations that are on the horizon. However, as a tight-knit community that has banded together and is determined to fight back, the vaping industry still has a very bright and electrifying future ahead of it. For the time being, industry leaders continue gracing the vaping community with ever-increasing, feature-rich, and high-quality products that are cherished by vapers from continent to continent.